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The Big Move: Waking up from the California Dream

On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

The Big Move: Waking up from the California Dream

Stephen H. Provost

California, it's been nice to know ya!

I’ve lived in the Golden State for almost 54 of my 55 years, and I’ve written three books on its history, but it’s time to say farewell to sunny California.

I do so with mixed feelings. The past few years have dealt me one change after another, each one seemingly intent on prying loose another one of my anchors and setting me adrift on a new course.


Seven years ago, I lost my job at The Fresno Bee when my position was eliminated, but I was fortunate enough to find a new job less than 200 miles away in San Luis Obispo. After a brief detour into substitute teaching, it meant a return to my chosen field. I’d earned my degree in journalism and had spent the previous quarter-century in newspapers, and I was perfectly happy to stay there.

Except the industry had other ideas. In May, after more than six years, I lost my job in SLO County when my position was eliminated (starting to sound like a broken record)? In between those two layoffs, my father died in Fresno. I’ve still got a few friends there, and I’ve made some here on the Central Coast, as well, but there was no way I could afford to continue living here without a job. Heck, I was struggling to afford the cost of living even with a job.

With circumstances conspiring against me like the James Gang plotting a train robbery, I decided not to fight it. This train has already left the station – it started rolling down the track May 4 when I lost my job – and I’m determined not to be held up at gunpoint by California’s exorbitant cost of living any longer. So, this month, we’re packing everything up (we have a lot to pack) and moving east, embarking on a great new adventure.


There’s a lot I’ll miss about California. I’ll miss traveling the highways I’ve written two books about, asking, “What used to be here? What was it like driving these roads a century ago?” And then doing the research to find out.

I’ll miss exploring the rolling hills, marveling at the giant redwoods, braving the Tule fog and basking in the sunshine – not the 100-degree days of the Central Valley, though; I definitely won’t miss those.

I’ll miss being able to drive down the coast to see a Dodgers or Rams game on a whim. Or over to Fresno to visit my old haunts and high school friends. I missed Fresno so much I wrote a book about it, and I’ll always have those memories. I didn’t live in Cambria nearly as long, but I’ll fondly remember the misty mornings and the Monterey Pines; the elephant seals and the scarecrows and Pinedorado; reading at open-mic nights seeing familiar faces during a stroll down Main Street.

I’ll miss Cal Poly basketball games and Fresno State football.

14-4 DiCicco's.jpg

I’ll miss eating at La Terraza in Cambria and DiCicco’s in Fresno. And I’ll definitely miss Me-N-Ed’s Pizza. That may be the biggest sacrifice of all.

I’m sorry I won’t get another chance to provide guest commentary on KTEA’s broadcasts of Coast Union baseball games. I did it once with John FitzRandolph, and it was a kick.

Of course, I’ll miss writing stories and taking photos for The Cambrian newspaper. I love telling stories, and there were some great stories to tell during my time in Cambria – from the closure of Highway 1 to the Cambria Christmas Market. I’m a sucker for Christmas lights, so that was always a highlight of my year.

Now there will be other stories, as an author, as a journalist or both, and I look forward to telling them. They’ll be different, but that’s what will make them interesting.

I’ll miss working in the historic home they’d converted into an office for The Cambrian newspaper. How many people get to work in a place with such character? That office is gone now, though, yet another sign that my time here is truly done. 

The friends I’ve made over the years, I’ll miss them, too, though not nearly as much as I would have if I’d made this move 20 years ago. We’ll keep in touch on Facebook, which is where we see each other most often now anyway. (I will miss shooting the breeze with Art Van Rhyn on Mondays, when he would arrive at The Cambrian office to submit his weekly cartoon; he’s not on Facebook, but I’m sure we’ll keep in touch.)


With all that, there’s much to look forward to. I’ll miss the history of California, but there’s even more history where we’re going. And everything’s closer together there, so I’ll be able to explore more easily. I’ll miss the Monterey pines, but there are more trees where I’m going: dogwood and cypress and oak and pine and maple. I’ll still be able to catch the Dodgers and Rams on the road, and it will be fun to see them play in different venues.

We’ll get to eat at Cracker Barrel and pay $1 a gallon less for gas. There won’t be majestic mountains, but there will be rolling hills that stay green all year long instead of staying brown for half the year or more. We won’t miss droughts or wildfires or earthquakes, and a little snow never hurt anyone (we hope!)


Best of all, we found a sweet house in a quiet neighborhood that has something in common with Fresno’s old Fig Garden. There’s a forest behind the house and a lake within walking distance. The home itself is a 3-bedroom, 2-bath two-story with a finished cellar complete with a wet bar. We don’t drink much, so this room will be our library (it’s big, but trust me, we have enough books to fill it).

There are three balconies, a fireplace and dual-pane windows, all in nearly 2,000 square feet on two-thirds of an acre. Compare that to the place we’ve been renting for the past two years, which is slightly more than 1,100 square feet. And cost? If we paid 3 years and 9 months more in rent, we’d have spent what it costs to buy the new place.

One thing I’m not looking forward to is the move itself. We’ve got 100 cardboard boxes on the way, and we’re trying to figure out the safest-cheapest-best way to move. Packing up all our stuff, driving more than 2,500 miles in five days with our animals, then getting everything unloaded and hooked up on the other end is not my idea of fun. When I was 25, I loved the idea of driving 10 hours in a day; at 55, it’s not nearly as appealing.

Wherever I end up, though, I’ll have what’s most important: my family, my cats and my writing. And I’ll always have my memories. Ask my imaginary friend Minerva how important those are. She’s the hero of my Memortality series. Is that a shameless plug for my books? Damn right. I’ll still be writing them and, I hope, you’ll still be buying them.

See you on the other side (of the country)!